There are seniors living on fixed incomes who are watching their utility bills rise every year, knowing that one day, they won’t be able to afford to live in their homes any more. For younger working families, utility bills are an ugly fact of life we just pay every month, that stop us from being free of our mortgages quicker, going on better vacations, saving for our children’s educations, or working less and having more fun.
What if we could cut our utility bills in half? What if you could get rid of utility bills altogether? What would you do with the money you can save by cutting your utility bills? How can you get rid of your high utility bills? Read on to find out more.
1. Go off Grid.
Many people are choosing to go “Off-Grid” completely, and cut that costly umbilical cord to society. It is easier than it sounds. If you are building a new house, although you may have to do some negotiating with your local building inspector, you can build a house that is totally self sufficient, for a very similar cost to the cost of a regular, “Plugged-In” house.
For inspiration, we can look to the Ecological Sustainability movement, who have pioneered off-grid living. Luckily, lowering your “Ecological Footprint” just happens to lower your utility bills at the same time.
You can get rid of utility bills to save money, save your planet, or both.
2. Earthship Paradise.
In the 1960’s many back-to-the-landers took a run at low impact living. One of the more colourful individuals in this regard was Michael Reynolds, who wrote several books on his “Earthships”. He set out to draw up workable plans for people to be able to build their own houses in complete harmony with the earth.
Earthships, with their smooth earthy walls and south facing solariums continue to capture the public imagination. Thousands have been built across North America, and none of them pay utility bills.
3. “Utility Income.”
Since those days other movements, particularly the German “Passiv Haus”, which got inspiration from the ground breaking “Conservation House” in Saskatchewan, have developed more sophisticated approaches. The phrase “Passiv Haus” refers to the fact that the house does not use any more energy than it produces, which is also called “Net Zero.”
A pilot project in Kitchener Ontario just proved that a “Net Zero” home can be built for only $20,000 more than a standard home with a $2,000 a year utility bill. The Canadian Green Building Council are calling for building codes across Canada to be brought in line with the current German Building Code, which is at Net Zero. Imagine a building code that specified your house has no heating bill!
Modern passive houses look identical to “normal” energy guzzling houses, with all the modern conveniences, and none of the nasty utility bills. In fact, there is a whole town in Germany that makes more than twice the energy that they use. They don’t have a utility bill: they have a utility income!
Whether you are ready to tackle the whole thing at once, or want to go system by system, here’s a quick overview of how to get rid of utility bills.
4. Tackling Heating Bills.
Getting rid of heating bills is pretty easy. A Passiv Haus doesn’t even have a furnace. How do they do it? They insulate and air-seal the house so well, they only lose 1 degree of heat per day in the middle of winter. They use extra hot water generated for showers run through their floors as radiant heat to heat the house.
Did you know you give off 60 watts of heat yourself, all day long? In a well-insulated house, the body heat of 5 people is about all you need to maintain temperature.
5. Your “furnace” could be a big shaggy dog!
Insulation is the first step to slashing your utility bills, because heating and cooling costs are roughly 60 % of your total utility costs in residential settings in Canada. If you are renovating, you may not be able to afford to insulate enough not to need a furnace. You should be able to cut your heating bills in half though.
For further savings, check the age of your furnace. High efficiency furnaces have vents about 2” in diameter made of ABS style plastic pipe, that go straight out the wall. If you have an old mid or low efficiency furnace, you can save a lot of money by upgrading. Always buy the highest efficiency possible, which is about 98%.
6. Getting Rid of Electricity Bills.
Electricity bills are easy to chop. They usually make up about 20% of your total utility expense, which is a pretty “juicy” target, if you will pardon the pun. The average North American can knock 25% off their electricity bill by doing a simple home audit. See if you have a local environmental group that offers audits, or if your local electrical utility can help.
Changing your clogged old furnace filter, swapping out 10 incandescent light bulbs for LED bulbs, and using special power bars to beat out Phantom Power Loss in your home are places to start. Phantom Power is the energy that is constantly dribbling out of older appliances when they are turned off. Old TV’s are notorious for this, so stick an automatic off power bar in your entertainment centre.
Reduce the Juice: did you know that swapping out your incandescent light bulbs in high traffic areas can save you $160 a year!
A further 20% savings are available by installing dimmer switches on your lights, and “automatic-off” motion sensors on lights that routinely get left on. Appliances are another source of cash savings. An old fridge could be costing you an extra $100 a year. Do you have a bar fridge in the basement? If you are not using it, turn it off!
7. Getting Rid of Gas Bills.
Gas is used for heating, which we covered, but also for hot water. New hot water tanks are properly insulated so they don’t lose heat, and you can save money by installing the latest high efficiency units. Inline tankless water heaters are the most efficient, and produce unlimited hot water on demand, but their high install cost prohibits you from saving more money than you will with a well-insulated tank model.
If you really want to chop your gas bill by saving on hot water expense, install solar hot water. Just running your water intake through a black hose coiled on the roof will save you a pile of money, but a fabricated unit will save you even more, and keep your neighbours happy.
Did you know that even in mid winter in Northern Canada, solar hot water comes off your roof at 140 degrees!
8. Getting Rid of Water Bills.
To get rid of your water bill, get a professional to size up your roof, and install the correct amount of external water storage. They’ll recommend slimline, unobtrusive tanks, (about the same capacity as 3-4 standard rain barrels), and the correct switching technology for your application. You’ll never have to water your garden or lawn with City water again. In some municipalities, you can even use rainwater to flush your toilets.
Speaking of toilets, you can save money by installing a 3-litre toilet.
That’s right, only 3 litres! Or you can take a page out of an Earthship and install a modern, smell-free composting toilet. Or you can install a grey water system, and use your old shower water to flush your toilets. Lower your bills by taking action!
9. Helpful Financing Tips.
Sometimes you can lower your bills between 10-20% with relatively inexpensive solutions like LED bulbs, low flow toilets, motion sensors and timers, power bars, a new fridge, putting 3 tennis balls in your dryer, etc. Sometimes though, to get rid of utility bills completely you need to think a little more long term.
If you borrow $5,000 and replace all your old appliances, from stove to fridge to washer etc., it will cost you $100 a month to finance for 5 years. You’ll save enough to pay for that in lower utility bills until the loan is paid off, and then you’ll really start racking up the savings.
A $5,000 investment in insulation for a house netted a 50% reduction in heating bills, for a savings of $800 a year.
Chopping your utility bills is actually an excellent investment, often returning .08% annual Return On Investment (ROI), for the first 5 years, if not higher after that. Forget the stock market - invest in the comfort and property value of your own house!
It is important to remember that you will also be “future proofing” yourself against rising energy costs. All of our utility bills are about to go through the roof. We can either be vulnerable, or we can be smart, and protect ourselves financially by getting rid of utility bills.